Report reveals the 21st century skills needed to future-proof our students

Music Milligan
Report calls for students to be future proofed with fundamental skills plus skills such as critical and creative thinking, intercultural understanding and ethical understanding. Image: Shutterstock

The disruption of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to the Australian education system is an opportunity to reshape the way we assess school students and future-proof their employability prospects, according to a new report.

Led by University of Melbourne Enterprise Professor Sandra Milligan at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, Future Proofing Students: What they need to know and how educators can assess and credential them, argues that teachers are not getting the support needed to teach students skills for the future.

“Governments have done a great job protecting our health, but they now need to step up to protect our children’s educational and employment futures,” Professor Milligan said.

“We are currently seeing assessment practices that lead to learners with dependence on instruction, who are being tested by recalling memory and solving problems in a basic, formula-driven way.”

Professor Milligan argues this type of assessment is not preparing students for the next century of work. “The current system is off-kilter with what will be demanded of students when they leave and try to find employment and face the issues life will throw at them,” Professor Milligan said.

“We’re not only talking about students’ fundamental capabilities with numeracy, literacy and information communication technology, but also critical and creative thinking, intercultural understanding as well as ethical understanding.”

Without these skills being fully developed, properly assessed and having attainments count in school credentials, Professor Milligan said it’s likely to leave students unable to appreciate or represent what they are really capable of.

“We need to upskill students with the essential and transferable skills that are needed for lifelong learning, and make sure that they are easily recognised by employers and tertiary institutions.”

Professor Milligan urges the creation of Learner Profiles – which include more detailed information about a student’s strengths, learning preferences and capabilities.

Learner Profiles allow students to monitor their own progress, recognise the learning skills they have and those they need, as well as allow employers and tertiary education providers to better understand their students.

Some schools have already identified the need for change, including Beenleigh State High School in south-east Queensland.

Principal Matt O’Hanlon has overseen the implementation of Learner Profiles at his school which have been used for the first time this year.

“This is a much more powerful tool in demonstrating the abilities of our students and recognises individual skills and capabilities – much more than just a certificate,” he said. “We identified several years ago that some student attributes weren’t reflected in their reports or assessments and employers weren’t able to recognise these.”

His school engaged with the local business community in developing the digital assessment tool to ultimately better demonstrate a student’s employability.

“Prospective employers want to know three things: a candidate’s attendance, attitude and abilities, and what a Learner Profile does is encapsulate all of this in a student’s portfolio,” Mr O’Hanlon said.

For Professor Milligan that’s even more reason to reshape the credentialing process.

“Now is the time to develop the framework within the wider education system so we can better teach and assess these 21st  Century skills and future-proof our students.”